Last week, in a 4-3 commissioner vote, the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition (SCIC) opted to withdraw its application from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to build a highway through the Book Cliffs region.
“What’s this about a highway going through the Book Cliffs?” This was a question I heard all too often from attendees that stopped by the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers booth at the Western Hunting & Conservation Expo in February, peering over the “Stop the Book Cliffs Highway” stickers displayed out on the table. It is surprising that a proposal for such a dramatic landscape change in one of Utah’s most prized hunting areas has been quietly gaining traction behind the backs of many dedicated hunters. In short, SCIC has been attempting for over 30 years to build a highway through the Books Cliffs, connecting Vernal to Moab. During the earlier years of the proposal’s life, it was pitched as a more efficient oil and gas industry route, whereas more recently, the story has shifted and it has been pitched as a corridor for tourism (see Utah Board Member, Trisha Hedin’s January 2021 article, “Sometimes a Poor Notion” for more background on the issue). Ultimately, should this highway come to fruition, it would fracture critical migration routes for big game, increase vehicular wildlife collisions, degrade habitat, and forever change what is currently a remote, rich, and wild landscape for minimal gains in return.
Through pushback from BHA, various conservation groups, Grand County, ranchers, and others, the SCIC made the decision last week to retract their progress. And progress it was – over the last year, the SCIC has had some of the greatest headway with this proposal in its long history, going as far as an application to the BLM. The Utah Chapter of BHA has been following the issue closely since it started to gain momentum and was the early sportsmen’s voice to share concerns with the BLM and oppose the highway construction. Even though the application has been pulled back, we aren’t getting too excited yet. While we consider this latest news a win, this proposal is bound to rise from the dead again, just like it has in the past. At that time, BHA will be ready to defend this important landscape for both wildlife and hunters.
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